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Hiring notice for uranium mine sparks concern among environmental groups

Pinyon Plain Mine
Ryan Heinsius/KNAU
The Pinyon Plain Mine, as seen from the air in November 2019, is the only active uranium mine near Grand Canyon National National Park, though it's yet to produce ore since it was first permitted in 1986. It's located on the Kaibab National Forest less than 10 miles south of the South Rim within a million acres where new uranium claims were banned for 20 years in 2012 by the Obama administration. Conservationists and tribes worry drilling activities could pollute an aquifer that feeds the seeps and springs in the Grand Canyon and provide the Havasupai Tribe with its sole source of drinking water. Mining companies maintain that modern extraction methods are safe and ample protections are in place for air and water.

The company that owns the sole active uranium mine near Grand Canyon National Park is hiring. Conservationists see the move as a potential ramp-up in operations at the controversial site.

The online ad posted last month calls for miners and
support staff to apply for work at the Pinyon Plain Mine. It was formerly known as the Canyon Mine and is located less than 10 miles from the South Rim.

Environmental groups have long worried that a ramp-up at the mine that’s yet to produce uranium ore could pollute groundwater that feeds critical seeps and springs inside the canyon. The Havasupai Tribe says it also threatens their sole water source and sacred sites.

According to the uranium industry, however, modern production methods are safe and don’t pose a threat to the area’s environment. A spokesperson for the mine’s owner, Energy Fuels Resources, says it would lessen dependence on uranium imported from Russia. The company hasn’t decided when production could begin but says it’s likely at least a year away.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate is still considering the Grand Canyon Protection Act. It was introduced by Arizona Senators Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema last year and would permanently ban new claims on a million acres outside the park.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom as executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.